Plug Adapters – Standards Personified


Plug Adapters

Originally uploaded by dchurbuck.

This illustrates why I started my long-stalled book on the history of standards. Plug adapters. A conspiracy started by Brookstone to screw travellers out of $50 every time they forget their little bag of plastic cubes. Why, oh why, can’t the world embrace a universal socket standard? Is it because there wasn’t an IEEE back in the days of early electrification? Is it because the government owned electrical utilities in the 19th century wanted to protect their own electrical equipment industries and insure that imports wouldn’t work in their plugs?

I’ve never found a satisfactory answer, and sitting here in a hotel room in La Defense, with a useless inert Treo because Sprint PCS isn’t a GSM standard, my Thinkpad’s EVDO wireless dead to the tune of a 15 Euro hotel internet charge because I don’t have a GRPS antenna …. IEEE be damned, the world is a long, long way from standardization, best intentions aside, and the sufferers are the travellers.

FORTUNE: This American wants you to buy Chinese

FORTUNE: This American wants you to buy Chinese – May 29, 2006
“I subscribe to the notion “Happy wife, happy life.””

My boss, Lenovo CEO Bill Amelio, on why he is commuting 9,800 miles from Singapore these days. I think I have subscribed to the same school of thought, which explains why I’m not shopping for a house in Raleigh these days.

What I’m reading

I’ve been through a bit of a dry spell on the reading table, but that’s changed with a couple deliveries from Amazon and a recent birthday present or two.

First, one I picked up for the plane ride to Paris, is David Foster Wallace’s Consider the Lobster, a recent collection of his non-fiction (there are those who say he is finished with fiction, but I digress). The opening essay, an account of his visit to the Adult Video News Awards — the Oscars of Porn — had me laughing so hard on the flight over that the hostess mistook my laughter for an off-base appreciation of her banter with the person across the aisle over the intricacies of the in-flight entertainment system. Wallace is the master of the footnote — indeed, as readers of Infinite Jest and his other works will attest, the real joy in a Wallace reading lies in the pica-point footnotes. Good stuff, and my son Eliot agrees, Wallace is a true genius.

Bless my wife, she gave me Glass Plates & Wooden Boats: The Yachting Photography of Willard B. Jackson at Marblehead for my birthday a couple weekends ago. A true coffee table book, this one is not only photos of beautiful yachts and working boats of the North Shore of Massachusetts at the turn of the century — the golden age of Corinthian yachting in America — but the accompanying text is great maritime history. One of the most beautiful collections of yacht photography in my collection.

I went through a few China books last month. Gate of Heavenly Peace by Jonathan Spence and the excrable Mao: The Unknown Story. Also blew through Hannibal on the flight from Beijing to San Francisco, but airplane novels leave me unhappy in general.

In literary sightings, Jimmy Guterman, former editor in chief of Forrester’s now defunct eponymous quarterly (to which I contributed) Forrester, is contributing to the front of the book for Fortune. He has a piece on telephones and airplanes in the issue with John Lassiter of Pixar on the cover. I can’t find the story on the Fortune (read CNN Money) site, otherwise I’d be linking.

Proactive customer relations

I’m participating in the beta test of a pretty cool product that helps marketers track the blogosphere buzz about their brand. Everyone and their brother was freaked by Jeff Jarvis’ Dell Hell last summer, rushing to identify the dissatisfied before they convert from a complaint to a veritable s%$t storm of negative sentiment. Enter the vendors to fill the need.
All this monitoring of commentary leads to inevitable question of what to do about it. You’ve identified the squawks, seen the pain, but how do you engage in the conversation? Rick Klau at Feedburner had a couple hard disk failures, so I phoned him — didn’t post a comment to his blog post — and told him, based on our pre-existing relationship that harks back to IDG, that I’d like to help him, should he need any. Well … what about people I don’t have a personal relationship with? What about Joe Consumer who is beefing on a blog or forum about what a terrible experience he is having with the product? Do I phone him? There isn’t enough hours in the day. But ….
Which leads me to the notion of “pre-emptive support.” What if the service and support model was changed from an inbound, you-call-us system to the reverse? That if a customer complains in the wilderness, the monitoring tools alert an outbound customer support person of the issue, who in turn reaches out and solves it. The question is whether or not a person posts after they’ve struggled with phone support, or before.
Seems simple enough, but having no experience in support, I can’t predict how it would drive costs or impact margins.

A weekend in the garden, a week in Europe


Iris

Originally uploaded by dchurbuck.

The rains abated on Cape Cod long enough to drive me into the flower beds with roto-tiller, soaker hose, and tons of mulch. The spring has been delayed by the record deluge, but my allergies say it is back on track.

Off to Paris tonight for meetings, then London, then back on the
Cape Friday afternoon in time for the long weekend. I’m looking forward to the train through the Chunnel on Wednesday night, but other than that, this is going to be a fast trip confined to conference rooms, hotels, and coach class.

Lenovo 3000 notebook computers – I have lust

Lenovo 3000 notebook computers – V100

Okay, call me biased, but this is the first Lenovo PC I really want to get my hands on. I am a big fan of ultra-portables and this baby, with dual core and the requisite multimedia fun, has the potential to rank up there with my old Fujitsu P2040 Lifebook, which was hobbled out of the gate by a Transmeta Crusoe. Even Walt Mossberg had to give it its due this morning in the Journal — this is a lot of speeds and feeds for the price.

Plus I like the design and you can’t argue with the Thinkpad’s keyboard. Ever.

okay, shameless pimpfest over.

Update: Rick Klau at Feedburner has lust too.

On blackness

I bought a black Nano last spring. Today I  understand that Apple charged me a premium for the color. Black suits me. I am not a white kind of guy, though I am a white man. But I don’t go for that white look that Apple has carved out over the years. So, when the Nano came out, I bought a black one. Black makes me happy. Black is why I like my Thinkpad. It isn’t silver. It isn’t purple. It’s just functional.

Apple’s introduction of a black MacBook is leading to some discussion on why there is a premium being charged for black. Would Lenovo charge an extra $200 for a white Thinkpad (ewww, ewww, I have blasphemed)?
This whole “what color is your laptop” thing makes me think of a nasty comment made by Bill Gates around the time Steve Jobs introduced the Next workstation in the late 80s. I have to paraphrase, but he said something like: “You want a black PC? Get a can of spray paint and I’ll make you a black PC.”

Okay, so I am not the kind of consumer who buys different faceplates for my cellphone. I don’t reskin my applications. I screw up my WordPress theme everytime I get artistic. I earned an “F” in first grade for coloring outside the lines. I think less is more when it comes to design. If it’s classic, if it looks like it will endure, then I will buy it.

So Apple climbs on the black bandwagon. That’s cool. First they climbed on the Intel bus, then they climbed on the Windows bus with Bootcamp. Now they are on the black bus. I wouldn’t buy one for obvious professional and legacy reasons (working for PC Week in the early 80s made me highly allergic to the Mac, and I still, try as I might, lack the Mac chromosome). But welcome to the black camp Apple. Hope you offer a bottle of windex to every owner, I had to sink my Black nano inside of a leather “incase” to stop the scratching and pigging it up with finger oil.